Semifinal Preview: Middletown South, Middletown North in North II Group IV
Will Middletown South and Middletown North square off in a state final for the first time in history?
That is the question heading into this weekend's action in the North II Group IV bracket, where the Eagles are the No. 1 seed and the Lions are right behind them at No. 2. Both of them have tough games on their home fields against seasoned playoff teams on Friday night, but both are favored to walk away with victories.
A showdown in the championship would mark the first time the long-time Thanksgiving rivals have ever met in a state final since the creation of Middletown South in 1976. Middletown North has not beaten Middletown South since 2000, but like last year could potentially have two straight games against the Eagles to finish the season.
Here's a look at the match-ups.
(5) Sayreville (8-2) at (1) Middletown South (7-2), 7 p.m. Friday
Game breakdown: The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, Sayreville held off Middletown South, 35-28, to win the Central Jersey Group IV title in 2012. This time around, the Eagles are the favorite, as they are the defending North II Group IV champions after going 12-0 last season.
This is an interesting match-up for Middletown South because this is not the same run-oriented Wing-T offense that Sayreville has run over the years. The Bombers now employ a no-huddle spread attack that, similar to Middletown South, is predicated on snapping the ball every 20 seconds.
It all revolves around 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior quarterback Jayson DeMild, who has thrown for 1,738 yards and 20 touchdowns along with 7 interceptions on an average of 15.8 yards per completion. His main targets are 6-foot-2 senior Andrew Wille, who has 26 catches for 371 yards and 4 touchdowns, and speedy 5-foot-8 sophomore Jascari Carter, who has 30 catches for 336 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The backbone of Middletown South's team is its defense, which has allowed 15.8 points per game against one of the toughest schedules in the state. The strength of that unit has been slowing down high-level opposing running games like those at Toms River North, Rumson-Fair Haven, Manasquan, St. John Vianney and Wall.
The Eagles have been susceptible to the big play in the passing game, whether it was a 76-yard touchdown catch and run by St. John Vianney's Chris Chukwuneke in the loss to the Lancers or three touchdowns of 40-plus yards allowed to Toms River North receiver Bryce Watts in a loss to the Mariners.
Sayreville's offense isn't on the level of Toms River North's, but it enters averaging 32.9 points per game on the heels of a 21-7 playoff win over Phillipsburg, the team Middletown South beat in last year's championship game. Middletown South's specialty is bringing pressure with its front seven, led by defensive linemen Will Gulick and Jake Krellin and linebackers Maxx Imsho and Kevin Higgins, so DeMild will have to prove he can make throws with people in his face.
Defensive backs like Ian Porter, Samson Dube and Ryan Ruziecki will be crucial to this game. If they tackle well in space, keep everyone in front of them and come up with a turnover or two, Middletown South will be in great shape. The Bombers have a lot of size at receiver, so that is a factor to keep an eye on. Their offense is predicated on short, quick passes that allow their receivers to run after the catch, so tackling is at a premium.
The Bombers do have a legitimate rushing threat in senior Michael Liberti, who has 915 yards and 12 touchdowns on an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Middletown South essentially wants to remove him from the gameplan early so it can focus on attacking DeMild in obvious passing downs.
Sayreville was held to 21 and 20 points in its two losses this season and has not played the caliber of schedule Middletown South has endured. However, the Bombers are a team that has made 22 state playoff appearances and won four titles in their history so they will not be intimidated by the atmosphere at "The Swamp."
Middletown South's offense is sixth in the Shore at 30.5 points per game behind senior quarterback Aneesh Agrawal, who has thrown for 1,235 yards and 12 touchdowns, and a running back-by-committee approach that has combined for 1,709 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Sophomore Anthony Summey leads the team with 838 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns, while Dube, Imsho, and junior Chaz Alessi have all seen multiple touches per game. Agrawal's primary targets are seniors Jeff Lewandowski and Jeremy Joyce, who have combined for 57 catches, 761 yards and 6 touchdowns. Agrawal will often throw them quick outs to the sideline to get yards after the catch and also set up deep shots when the defense starts cheating toward the line of scrimmage.
Liberti is also an outside linebacker for Sayreville and has 9 hits for a loss, so the Eagles need to get a body on him to avoid disrupting the running game. Up front, the biggest obstacle is 6-foot-7, 210-pound senior Jahsim Floyd, who has a team-high 7 sacks.
Middletown South was a long-time scrimmage opponent with Sayreville in the preseason, so it's certainly familiar with their program. Second-year head coach Chris Beagan, who took over at Sayreville in the wake of the hazing scandal that nearly submarined the program, was the coach at Monroe when the Falcons stunned previously undefeated Middletown South 30-10 in the 2009 Central Jersey Group III final for the Falcons' only state title in history.
It all adds up to a great match-up between traditional powers. Middletown South is seeking its second straight trip to a sectional final and its 13th championship game appearance in the last 16 seasons during a remarkable run under head coach Steve Antonucci.
(3) Summit (8-2) at Middletown North (7-2), 7 p.m. Friday
Game breakdown: This is a huge one for the Lions, who have not been to a state final since winning their last title in 1996, meaning no one on their team was alive the last time they made it that far.
They face a Summit team that is a postseason regular with 25 playoff appearances and 8 sectional titles in its history.
Middletown North features Wagner-bound senior quarterback Donald Glenn, a four-year starter who has rewritten the school record book for passing. He has thrown for 1,883 yards and 19 touchdowns with only three interceptions this season in the Lions' spread attack.
His top target, senior Brendan Kube, is having a huge season, as he leads the Shore Conference with 40 catches for 808 yards to go with 7 touchdowns. Senior Dwight Wilkerson is a versatile threat who has 24 catches for 332 yards and 3 touchdowns and has also run for 604 yards and 5 touchdowns. Seniors Marc Cerbo and Brock Zenker are two other playmaking targets for Glenn.
Sophomore Connor Robbins has stepped up amidst injuries at running back to rush for 409 yards and eight touchdowns, the majority of which have come in the latter half of the season. The Lions' offense ranks fifth in the Shore at 30.1 points per game, so they have the firepower to win a shootout against a Summit team averaging 30.8 points per game if it comes to that.
Summit, which runs a 3-4 base defense, enters allowing 25.8 points per game, so the Lions should have plenty of opportunities to put up points. The Hilltoppers rolled over Colonia, 42-7, in the first round, but have not played as difficult a schedule as Middletown North has faced in the rugged Class B North, which features four teams playing in the semifinals this weekend.
The Hilltoppers have some size up front defensively in 300-pound noseguard Danny Petrella and standout tackle Matt Grange, who is 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. It's also an experienced unit with nine starters back from last year's team.
Offensively, Summit runs the Wing-T out of the shotgun and has dealt with multiple injuries at the quarterback spot this season, having to lean on sophomores to run the show.
Senior quarterback Jake Froschauer, a Colgate recruit, has battled injuries all season. A pair of sophomores, converted wideout Jackson Tyler and Skyler Schluter, have been playing quarterback for the past couple weeks. Schluter is more of a passer in a their quick-hit scheme that emphasizes yards after the catch.
Senior Matt Murdock has been the anchor to the running game, as he rolled up 225 yards rushing in the win over Colonia last week.
Another key weapon for Summit is senior Jack Johnson. When he is not singing mellow jams on a beach in Hawaii, he is one of the best kickers in the Mid-State 38 Conference with range past 40 yards.
Middletown North has faced one tough running game after another this season. The Lions have dealt with the likes of Manasquan's Connor Morgan, Wall's Sean Larkin, Red Bank Catholic's Zach Bair and Long Branch's Keith Cooper, so trying to stop Murdock and Co. is simply the next challenge.
The Lions, who are allowing 19 points per game, are led by senior linebacker Nick Kish, who has 85 tackles, and Kube, an all-around talent who has 88 tackles. Junior Austin Dewise is also among the Shore leaders with 7 sacks, and Zenker has three interceptions at linebacker.
A big key to the game is a fast start for Middletown North. If the Lions can put Summit in a hole and force them to have to throw the ball more than usual, that plays right into their hands. The Lions have been building toward this season under coach Steve Bush for the past few years, and now is the time to get over the top and make their first state final appearance in 20 years. A victory would also give them their most wins since going 9-2 in 1996.
This is a good Summit team, but not a vintage one at a program that has had a tremendous last decade of success, so the opportunity is there for the Lions.